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Judge countersues newspaper; seeks $1 million damages.

A LOS ANGELES presiding judge, who has been sued by a California legal newspaper for allegedly abusing his authority in detaining three of the paper's employees, has filed a countersuit that seeks more than $1 million in damages.

Presiding Superior Court Judge Ricardo A. Torres accuses the daily Metropolitan News-enterprise and its publisher, Roger Grace, of libel, fraud, deceit, conspiracy and negligent misrepresentation.

The last charge concerns a phony memo on Torres' letterhead that had been composed by Grace and distributed in the downtown courthouse by the three Met/News staffers, who were stopped by a bailiff and hauled before Judge Torres. The judge began contempt proceedings against the trio but dropped them when they wrote him a letter of "regret" for their actions.

The memo, which lampooned Torres, was written as a joke, according to Grace. However, Grace has been bitterly critical of an order by Torres, which gave Superior Court judges the option of either subscribing to the Met/News or its rival, the Los Angeles Daily Journal. The court pays for the subscriptions.

Grace claims that the order cost the Met/News 300 subscriptions, representing a serious economic loss.

Prior to the subscription issue, the Met/News had frequently attacked Torres in its pages, calling him such names as "despotic twit" and a "petty and spiteful autocrat."

Grace's suit seeks a minimum of $285,000 in damages, charges Torres with false imprisonment, intentional infliction of mental distress, and violation of federal civil rights.

The Met/News publisher termed Torres' cross-complaint "frivolous and silly."

Torres, who filed the countersuit in his own court, has maintained that the decision to limit legal newspaper subscriptions was made by a judicial committee rather than by him alone.

Grace scoffed at the statement, contending that Torres "rammed it through" the Superior Court's Executive Committee.

"This [the newspaper subscription order] was a stunt to attempt to intimidate us and it's not going to work," Grace insisted.

Assistant County Counsel Fred Bennett, who is defending Torres against Grace's suit, had a different view.

"Roger Grace has engaged in a two-year campaign against Judge Torres," he said. "For the most part, the judge has ignored the name-calling and had never spoken to Grace about it. It's easy to take cheap shots against a judge because he is ethically prevented from commenting about them."

Now, however, Torres believes he has had enough and that the Met/News' insults against him would continue if he did not countersue, Bennett said.

Torres is being represented in his countersuit by a private attorney.

The cross-complaint asserts that the phony memo, which Grace said was merely intended as satire, libeled Torres and was intended to "otherwise attack, discredit, ridicule, embarrass or humiliate him."

One of the causes of action in the complaint claims that the defendants "owed a duty to Torres not to falsely personate [cq] him, not to libel him and not to otherwise attack, discredit, ridicule or humiliate him" and that by doing so they had "breached the duties owed to Torres."

Responded Grace: "We have a duty not to criticize a public official? I don't understand that."

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Title Annotation:Los Angeles judge sues the Metropolitan News-Enterprise
Author:Stein, M.L.
Publication:Editor & Publisher
Date:Dec 12, 1992
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